Tag: family

At the Table

I drove to Maryland to see my mom this weekend.  She’s living by herself in an independent living community (I thought of saying complex, but I wasn’t sure she would like that term).  My cousin lives very close by, and for the first year that my mom was there, they saw a lot of each other. However, now that people and employers are acting like the pandemic has ended, my cousin is traveling a lot for work.  For the first time, it seemed like my mom was feeling lonely.  

I woke up in Maryland on Saturday to a steady rain, checked the weather app, and it showed nothing but sprinkles, showers, and downpours throughout the day. This dashed any hopes of a walk.  Although she’s 92, my mom still moves pretty well.  We convinced her to use a walker for safety reasons, considering that she’s had two major hip surgeries.  She reluctantly agreed.  She’s had to make other sacrifices over the past few years.  She gave up tennis around age 87, partly because she didn’t trust herself not to be too competitive.

Now her only recreational sport is the table variety of tennis.  She’s having a bit of trouble finding partners in her community.  On the weekly calendar published for residents, there’s a slot on Thursdays at 1:00 p.m. that says, “Ping Pong with Mary,” but so far Mary (my mom) is the only one to show up.  She has one gentleman friend who rallies with her on Tuesdays.   My family wonders if perhaps some of the gentlemen are intimidated.  Mom does, after all, have her own paddle.  She insists, though, that she is not looking for competition.  “We won’t be keeping score,” she stresses.  “We’ll just be trying to keep the ball moving.”  She has had to reassure us of this promise, too.  We’ve all witnessed her competitive side.  “No, no, not anymore,” she tells us.  “I don’t even move backward from the table.  I can’t afford any more falls.”  

I’ve been playing ping pong with my mom since I was eight, when we inherited my grandmother’s table.  Transporting a ping pong table from New York to Maryland on top of a rental car in a blizzard is another story.  I’ll skip to the games in our basement.

We played a lot in our dark and unfinished basement.  At first I believed we were evenly matched, since all of our games seemed close, and we both managed to win about half the time.  The contests continued for years. From my summers at camp, where rainy days sometimes meant ping pong marathons, I became a much better player.   It was interesting, though, that as I got better, the outcomes of games with my mom didn’t really change.  Apparently my mom was getting better, too.  It was only when I was considerably older, when the rallies got more dramatic, the serves faster, and the lunging saves more common, that it dawned on me that Mom had been taking it easy in those early days.   

So, on Saturday, we ventured to the game room, with its bright lights, pool table, carpeting, and a much nicer table than our old basement relic. Mom parked her walker at the bench and scooped up her personalized paddle.  I grabbed one of the house paddles and wondered how this would go. We rallied.  We did not keep score.  There were no spins, no aggressive serves, and no drop shots…at least no intentional ones. We mostly hit the ball down the middle, though I was trying to give her backhands and forehands.  I didn’t hit any deep shots, and she didn’t make any reckless saves.  I’m guessing it was a lot like our first games.    

I wanted to capture some of the moment to share with my family, but wasn’t that easy to aim a phone while playing ping pong. Here’s a short clip from our time at the table.

Finish Lines

It’s Wednesday evening, and I’m thinking about this year’s journey through March.  I hurt my foot the other day (I don’t know how), and I joked to the other slicers at my school that I was literally and figuratively limping to the finish line.  My foot feels better today, though.  

I started the month by writing about how the ticking of a clock could sometimes untether me from the present, sending me back into all sorts of memories.  This month I wrote car memories and called them auto-biographies.  I wrote writing memories stirred by old letters and postcards.  I wrote reading memories inspired by my favorite books.  All of these memories grew out of entries by other writers in the Slice of Life Challenge.  I also wrote pieces about the people (and the animal) I live with at home right now and the people I live with at school right now.  So, that’s the past and the present.  I didn’t write much about the future.

This morning I was talking with Jess, a fellow slicer I have the privilege of working with.  She spoke about her husband saying that her slices had made their family’s life “cute.”  That’s not the adjective I would have used, but even so, I don’t think that she does that in a bad way or a disingenuous way.  I think she chooses what she wants to capture, the nuggets that the sieve holds back while other moments slip through.  I told her that I’ve had a little tug of war going on in my head and heart this month.  I have wanted to write the truth, but I’ve also tried to focus mostly on positive memories and observations.  I’ve worried that in doing so I might seem glib, writing mostly about the good or silly moments, even as world news has felt so grim.  I may have curated these posts to the point that someone reading them in the future might think life was pretty great in 2022…or I was pretty shallow.  I think I wrote to cheer myself up or to remind myself that every day holds positive moments or to remember that positive memories have pulled me through other difficult times.  

Tonight, though, my ticking clock has me thinking about the future, and I admit that I have fears and concerns.  The leader in Russia makes me angry and sad and apprehensive.  The former leader of our country makes me disgusted and worried that he might rise again.  The divisions and the anger in our country give me pain.  And some of the behaviors I see in school make me fearful about the mental health of our kids.  We have scars from this pandemic and the years that preceded it, and it may take a long time for us to heal.  One person I read said we, as a country or world, are collectively grieving the things and people that we’ve lost over the past two years.  I think he’s right, though some may be in denial.

Those thoughts played on my mind throughout this month.  That I didn’t write about them much was partly a choice made out of self-defense…and perhaps out of mercy for the people reading my entries.  As Jess said this morning, “I’m thinking about the energy that I’m giving off.  We have more than enough of the negative kind.”  

As someone who is well-acquainted with grief, I think there are some lessons in this writing challenge that can help anyone who is grieving.  One is that writing and drawing and photographing can help us find and preserve the things that we love and value.  Another is that reading the words of other people, learning about their loves and their daily struggles, can make us more aware, more empathetic, and more human.  And finally, responding to those “others” by looking for the good in their words and finding the connections to our own experiences, makes them feel less like “others” and more like “us.”

I’m so grateful for the people at Two Writing Teachers who made this community possible, and so grateful to all the writers who shared both their stories and their feedback.  I don’t have the energy to continue this kind of writing every day of the year, but I know that when I pass the finish line and land on April first, I will really miss this community.